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Issue of January 2003 
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Techscope 2003: Best Practices
Delivering best practices for complex IT environments

As business dependence on IT infrastructure increases, IT is expected to stay ahead of service demand. Yet enterprises are cautious about investing in new infrastructure and want to do more with less. So companies must turn to standard best practices for help. by K. P. Vinod

The roadmap to profitable business is changing in corporations around the world. IT resources are increasingly becoming the delivery and support mechanisms behind corporate initiatives which are viewed as the key enabler of overall business goals. This reliance on the IT infrastructure has created a strain on resources and has forced IT organizations to increase productivity of infrastructure resources, while decreasing costs associated with service. Doing more with less is not an easy task.

Inevitably, therefore, companies must turn to standard best practices for help. Best practices give companies industry-proven ways to standardize their processes and manage their IT environments. This customized approach means that the tools to support these processes must be flexible.

The leading standards in this area are the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL); British Standard (BS15000); the emerging standard for IT service management which is based on ITIL methodologies; and ISO 17799, the global best practice standard for securing business information which is based on the British Standard (BS7799).

The British Standards Institution (BSI) published in 1998 a revised Code of Practice for IT Service Management. This code of practice documents the approach considered by authors to be the current best industry practice.
The BSI Code sets out five processes, which encompass IT Service Management. All the processes are heavily, and necessarily, interdependent. The success of any IT Service Management project depends on the successful integration of the relevant processes.

The five integrated processes are:

  1. Service Design and IT Management Processes
    This process deals with the shape of IT Service Management, and impacts strongly upon the quality and quantity of the services delivered.
  2. Supplier Processes
    This process defines the correct relationship with the customer and ensures that customer expectations are realistic. This includes the relationship with your own suppliers, and ensures that your expectation is both realistic and delivered.
  3. Resolution Processes
    This process involves recording incidents and resolving problems by providing comprehensive information at the right level to the right people.
  4. Control Processes
    What do you have? Where is it? What does it do? To deliver quality IT services this is the central information that must be accurately maintained and easily accessed.
  5. Release Processes
    Nothing remains constant for long within an organization, and that means new hardware, new networks, new software, new buildings, new processes. All of these will require careful management of the release of new items. Release Management includes assessment of alternatives, specification, introduction, training and assessment of the benefits achieved.

The ITIL Approach
The foundations to the Best Practices approach and addressing the principles of IT Service Management in more detail is the ITIL that offers a systematic, professional approach to the management of the IT service provision.

ITIL is a set of best practices for IT Service Management that has been evolving since 1989. It began as a set of processes for use by the UK government to improve IT Service Management, and has been adopted by the industry as a basis for successful IT Service Management. It is gaining worldwide acceptance as the standard for IT Service Management. At the core of the library are two volumes on the Service Management discipline, Service Support and Service Delivery, which were rewritten in 2000/2001. Security is covered in the Security Management volume produced in 1999. ITIL describes best practices that can be utilized to best suit an organization.

All disciplines work together to deliver Service Management to the business and users of IT systems. Users can be employees of the organization or their partners and customers who are increasingly using the IT services directly, which is increasing the importance of effective Service Management.

Both Service Support and Service Delivery interact with Network Systems, Applications and Databases of the IT infrastructure as well as the Operational Management of those entities. The Customer Relationship Management discipline manages the interaction between the Service Delivery and Support Process and the users and customers of the organization to whom the business services are being delivered.

Finally, and increasingly important, is the management of security of the IT Infrastructure and the Business Services it is delivering.

The focus of ITIL in all its disciplines is on defining the best practice for the processes and the responsibilities that must be established to effectively manage the business' IT services to drive forward the objectives of that business in service delivery and revenue generation.

All of these processes could, in theory, be implemented and supported without the use of IT tools. In practice, in today's world, this would be impossible and electronic systems are essential to support these processes where appropriate.

Adopting the ITIL approach can provide:

  • Greater productivity and best use of skills and experience.
  • Increased customer satisfaction with IT services which meet their needs.
  • Reduced risk of not being able to meet the business requirements for IT services.
  • Reduced costs in developing procedures and practices within an organization.
  • Better communication and information flows between IT staff and customers.
  • Assurance to the IT director that staff is provided with appropriate standards and guidance.
  • Quality approach to IT service provision.

There are also benefits to the customer of the IT services, such as:

  • Reassurances that IT services are provided in accordance with documented procedures (clear audit trail).
  • Ability to rely upon IT services, enabling the customer to meet business objectives.
  • Provision of clearly defined contact points within IT services for enquiries or discussions about changing requirements.
  • Knowledge that detailed information is produced to justify for IT services and to provide feedback from monitoring service level agreements.

The functions are inter-related, requiring information flow between them. Organizations are most likely to gain real benefit in the longer term from implementing all of the processes rather than some discrete ones. Without full implementation some important activities and information will be missing.

The common approach brings with it a common language of ITIL terms; which permits easier understanding of suppliers and products. Perhaps this is best summarized, and its importance demonstrated, by the BSI code of practice when it states its aim to provide a common reference standard for any enterprise offering services to internal or external customers.

The best way to deliver the services that the business needs is to identify and apply appropriate industry Best Practices.

Applying ITIL Best Practice IT Service Management provides a thought-through, integrated approach, which can be adapted to any organization and any mix of IT resources. By providing a template for service development, it allows the IT department to spend its energies on implementation, rather than re-inventing the wheel.

Best Practice focuses IT resources on service quality in fulfilling customer needs. It is a platform for moving away from yesterday's frustrating, technology-driven culture of IT services.

Implementation of Best Practice requires an IT Management software solution that is capable of integrating detailed information from all sources and in providing access to accurate, relevant management information on demand.

Many vendors have developed software solutions that have grown with the theory, adding bolt-on modules along the way. However, few have leapt forward to delivering a best practice engine based on ITIL guidelines.

In the end, the best solution will be determined by your projections of future needs. In considering the best overall solution, it may be worth considering bolt-on modules or scrapping the current platform and trading up to an integrated suite. Whatever path is chosen, the management information it delivers should be tested against the requirements of fulfilling ITIL Best Practice.

The writer is Director-Marketing, Computer Associates

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